ABOUT 25 years ago, there were only three medical schools in Malaysia. All were in government-run universities. Entry was based on merit with a fair share for Malaysians of every race. Scholarships and loans were relatively easy to obtain and poverty was never an issue. At RM800 per year, fees were affordable. Standards were high and getting a job in Malaysia or in Western countries was easy.
Today, many locally produced doctors are heads of departments overseas and at home. For those who could afford it and couldn’t gain entry into local universities, a handful of reputable overseas universities with strict entrance criteria were recognised.
Due to the demand, private medical schools were set up, and they were initially good. Unlike other courses where a student can jump from one private college to another, medical school students had to stick to one college. Investors had a guaranteed income.
Like mushrooms after a rainy day, medical schools flourished, some with politicians as directors. Even shop houses were converted into medical schools.
Things got worse with the easy availability of the Internet. The lecture-student ratio dwindled and students were encouraged to self-study. Fewer lecturers and more students would mean heftier profits, and more colleges opened.
In contrast, the lecture-student ratio for medical-related studies in the West has hardly changed for the past 50 years. Medicine is one field where study based on self-learning does not work.
Overseas universities with questionable reputations, where money and not grades were the criteria for admission, were recognised. Selling a modest house in the city could easily educate four children in these places.
When the former government realised that it had made a grave error, there was no turning back because any decision to drop these colleges from the list of recognised institutions caused an uproar and became a political and racial issue.
Today, due to poor foresight, there is a glut of not only doctors but also nurses, dentists, physiotherapists and pharmacists. Thirty years ago, fewer than 100 dentists applied for housemanship every year. Last year, 1,300 dentists applied for jobs. In the 1990s,
the waiting period for housemanship for doctors was three weeks. Today, it could be almost a year-long-wait.
There was almost a zero drop-out rate among medical housemen back then. Although housemen are paid four times more than before and work on a more humane shift, the drop-out rate is almost 20% now. After spending the prime of their lives studying, they are now Grab drivers, used car salesmen and fast food waiters. For parents, this means heartache, tears and dried-up coffers.
It’s highly probable that the government will not do anything because it would end up being just another unpopular decision. It’s up to parents and their children to realise that being a doctor is no longer a lucrative profession. If you are a very good student and want to be a doctor, go for it. Otherwise, there are lots of other jobs with good prospects. Spend the prime of your life wisely.
DR RAJINDEER SINGH
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